Friday, 12 June 2020

“Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty”

When I was in primary school we attended “St. Anne’s” Anglican Church at Strathfield which was rather a grand structure for our Sydney suburbs in the early 1950s. To be quite truthful, it was not all that warm and welcoming for young children – it seemed a bit “stuffy”, although in those times it was not usual for services to focus on the children present.  It was very early that I gave up trying to understand the difficult sermons about Trinity Sunday, which heralded the long “ordinary time” in the church year, when the colour green reappeared in the elaborate drapes and cloths around the Sanctuary and the altar, to stay until Advent in November.  

When we visited the Church of St. Mary in Shawbury in Shropshire, the altar was dressed with green.
The Rev. John Mayor (my GG Grandfather) was the Vicar there for 45 years and it was there
that his son the Rev. Robert Mayor was born in 1791.  

I loved the white and gold of Easter and Christmas, the purple of Advent and Lent; and the red of Pentecost and these church seasons were more interesting and even exciting for me.  After a few years one of my older brothers met a friend who had been to another local church that had a lively youth group, so gradually the family drifted towards that church, which had a warm sense of community. 
It is only in the last decade that I have been pleased to hear that some of our Marsden Road ministers continue to have feelings of concern about what the Rev. John this Sunday called, “This anomaly of Trinity Sundays”.  He said; “It is always a Sunday that has provided most clergy with anxiety or anguish or consternation as they attempt to prepare a sermon on the Trinity that is not boring or so full of theological jargon that parishioners will fall asleep. How often have you heard clergy lament on having to preach on the Trinity? Well today is no exception for me.” 
Yet, although you can read the Rev. John’s entire sermon as you possibly have already done – I think I should quote an entire long paragraph that I felt very descriptive and thought provoking without causing disturbance of mind or feelings of inadequacy in trying to understand theology.  So here it is:
People are not converted to Jesus because we can articulate a theological doctrine, but because we can share our faith in very human terms. Sharing how God has acted in our lives as creator/parent, redeemer, brother, and empower spirit. Our God is a loving and generous God who gives to us unconditionally. The God we worship is the God who created all of us and accepts all of us as we are. God does not make mistakes. Understanding God in this way gives us knew insight into loving and accepting others who are different from us for we are all made in God's image. It is us, not God, who has put limits and parameters on who is acceptable to God. Understanding God this way also calls us to reach out and care for all of God's children especially those who cannot care for themselves. Paul reminds us there are a variety of gifts but one spirit. We are a variety of people in one Spirit. We are called to live out and develop our gifts to the fullest. Our gifts are complimentary to one another and there is no scale of 1-10 on the gifts of the spirit.
Everyone is making the most of a difficult situation and doing their best to keep in touch and talk and listen to each other and lift the spirits of others; especially the people who are unable to attend church online.  It is sad that we are missing going to church with the familiar surroundings and the opportunity to Worship together, however the magic of “Zoom” manages to deliver the Sermon, the Prayers and the Bible Readings quite satisfactorily and it is good to see the people sitting at their computers making the best of the situation.  This week the Rev. John tried out a computer “trick” which placed him and his wife in front of a photo of the Marsden Road Church, which felt familiar and “homely”.
However, we are still missing the joy of singing the hymns and have tried looking and listening to Youtube, which had some difficulties for a group situation.  We are now trying out having a pianist play the piano in their home while we all mute our sound and sing to ourselves, but somehow it just doesn’t give that wonderful sense of singing together, with the benefits of the amazing acoustics of our little church. 
So on Sunday morning when I heard that we were to have the hymn “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty” which was written by Bishop Reginald Heber of Calcutta, I really longed for the time we can all sing together in Praise once again.
I have always been rather keen on Bishop Heber’s hymns and as a keen student of history and family history the stories of the British in India and what I have discovered of the dozens of my mother’s ancestors who went to India during many decades of the 19th century for a wide variety of reasons - all of which would probably be seen only in an unfavourable light by those today who deny history - I have done quite a lot of reading and research.  My great great grandmother’s brother, the Rev. Robert Mayor went with his new wife and two other missionaries from the CMS in London, as the first missionaries to “work for ten years among the heathen” in Galle in 1817 and I remember being shocked when I read his memorial plaque in the church in England where he is buried.  Those were the exact words used.  I was quite relieved to discover that he was also a medical doctor who was said to have saved the sight of many of the people he served. 

Among my reading I came across a letter written to Robert’s father by Bishop Heber:
“I arrived at this port five weeks ago, in visiting the different parts of my great diocese; and had the pleasure to be greeted, among those who first came off to our vessel, by your son Robert, looking stout and well and very little altered from what he was when I last saw him in England ….. Mrs Heber and I had the pleasure, in our return from the North, of passing the best part of three days with him and Mrs, Mayor, in their romantic abode at Baddagamma, where we also found his colleague Mr. Ward, his wife and family, in perfect health and contented cheerfulness.  I consecrated their church, which is really an extraordinary building, considering the place in which, and the circumstances under which, it has been erected; and I also had the happiness of administering confirmation and the Lord’s Supper to a small but promising band of their converts and usual hearers; and I can truly say, both for my wife and myself that we have never paid a visit which has interested and impressed us more agreeably, from the good sense, good taste, and right feeling, the concord, the zeal, and orderly and industrious piety, which appeared to pervade both families and every part of their establishment.  Mr Ward has in some degree got the start in Cingalese studies, but the progress which both have made in such a difficult language has been mentioned to me as highly honourable to them; and Robert, from his medical skill, his truly masculine sense, his bodily as well as mental energy, and his cheerfulness under difficulties, has qualifications of the most valuable kind for the life which he has chosen.  Both of them are all in fact which you or I could wish them; active zealous, well-informed, and orderly clergymen, devoted to the instruction and help of their heathen neighbours; both enjoying a favourable report, I think I may say without exception, from the governor, public functionaries, and in general from all the English in the colony whom I have heard speak of them.  The cause of Christianity is, I hope, going on well here.”
Bishop Heber’s once popular Mission Hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”, has been called “A conspicuous example of that fervent belief to convert the world to Christianity which led Heber and others to lay down their lives in the mission field"; has been omitted from some publications in the last 40 years for words that “Seem patronising and insensitive to other beliefs.”  In 1925 Mahatma Gandhi expressed his offence 99 years after Bishop Heber’s death.  He said that such phrases as “Every prospect pleases and only man is vile", and the "the heathen in his blindness [bowing] down to wood and stone", implied assumptions that were untrue in his experiences. Gandhi said; "My own experience in my travels throughout India has been to the contrary ... [Man] is not vile. He is as much a seeker after truth as you and I are, possibly more so".

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